Why Capitalize the First Letter of Each Word?

Capitalize Each Letter

"Why, Old Bean, That's a Capital Idea!"

Some of You May Have Noticed that in My Headlines, I Capitalize the First Letter of Most Words.

In fact, I recently received a comment asking just that:

“Is there a reason for the seemingly Random Capitalization? Is it to make the reader stop and wonder why there is Suddenly Capitalization in the sentence, and thus Make it More Memorable?” -Kyle

Well Kyle, and fellow readers, yes there is a method to the madness :)

Notice in the heading to this article, I didn’t capitalize EVERY letter – only certain ones.

“Why Capitalize the First Letter of Each Word in a Headline?”

I capitalized the first word of the headline (grammar).

I then capitalized all the “Power words” or important words  ” Capitalize, First, Letter, Each, Word.”

I leave out words like `a’, `the’, `of’, `to’, `on’, `in’ and`an’.

Why capitalize any words at all?

The thought here is that by capitalizing the “power words” of a headline, you’re subconciously prompting the reader to read each word with more focus than they would have normally.   We’re trained to read capitalized words as the start of a sentence.

By making each ‘power word’ capitalized, you’re creating an impact at the start of each word.  In their mind they’re registering each word as the begining of the sentence.  We usually pay attention to the beginning of things.

Therefore, the theory is, by capitalizing the first letter in each ‘power word’ in a sentence of a headline, your message is creating more impact and being absorbed more readily than if you didn’t.

Why don’t you capitalize the other words?

If, and, the, etc – are there to make the sentence flow.  We don’t really need people to absorb them, they’re only there so the sentence makes gramattical sense.  Therefore we don’t need to impress those words onto the reader.

But Danielle, I’ve seen you capitalize “if’ ‘and’ and other words like that before!

Yes, and after a lot of testing, I found it to be fairly useless.   In tests where I just capitalized “Power words”, the headlines performed much better than when I capitalized every letter.

That’s just one reason I felt it necessary to explain the subtle nuances in things as seemingly trivial as capitalizing the first letter of each word :)

Now Go Forth and Capitalize With Power!

Talk to you soon,

Danielle Lynn

P.S. For those of you who missed my weekly critique, I promise it didn’t vanish – be on the look out for this week’s edition around Thursday, I just got so heavily swamped last week that I barely had time to tie my shoes!

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10 Responses to Why Capitalize the First Letter of Each Word?

  1. Kyle March 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    Thanks for responding to my comment so quickly. At the risk of opening yet another Pandora’s box, could you write a bit about how you tested the different headlines? (or perhaps testing in general?) And is your experience really that the headlines performed best when you capitalized Almost All Words, and not just a few ones? Like, instead of “Now Go Forth and Capitalize With Power!”, wouldn’t “Now go forth and Capitalize With Power!” be even stronger? My reasoning is that if you capitalize (emphasize) too much, then there is no emphasis left. “If everything is important, nothing is important”.

    • Danielle March 11, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

      @ Kyle Open the pandoras box as much as you can! Riveting discussions lead to more understanding :)

      For testing: good point – As I wrote to John

      “As for improvement: A/B testing would have been nice, but in similarly titled articles/email campaigns, I used both the “Power Word” format and the “Each Word Capitalized” format, and the ones that only capitalize the “Power Words” in the subject lines/titles have been opened/viewed at least 30% more- in some cases up to 80% more- than ones where all the letters were capitalized.

      The next chance I get, I’m going to do identical split testing and confirm these results scientifically We’ll make a post out of it.”

      As for “Now go forth and Capitalize With Power!”

      I toyed with that one a bit :) Yours reads (without the uncapped words) ” Now Capitalize With Power!” I think that’s strong. Mine reads “Now Go Forth Capitalize With Power!”

      I think I’ll have to concur with you on one point- it would be a more direct read without capitalizing the ‘extra flair.’ But then again, maybe embedding the command to “Go Forth” makes it more likely that people will do so! ;) I should test that as well!

      Thank you for the insightful comments as usual Kyle

  2. John McGarvey March 9, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    See, to me, unneccessary capital letters are like speed bumps for the eyes. They interrupt your flow as you read.

    I also find them aesthetically awkward and rather old-fashioned. In short, I’m with The Guardian on this one:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide/c

    (Scroll to the ‘capitals’ heading.)

    Having said all that, I’m genuinely interested to know how you’ve quantified the improvement. Some sort of A/B testing, running identical articles, except for the headline capitalisation? And what constitutes an ‘improvement’?

    • Danielle March 11, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

      @ John I like the way you put it “speed bumps for the eyes” That’s actually the effect that is happening here.

      But to be honest, I agree – I don’t like reading a lot of text that is formatted that way, which is why a person should only use it as an intially attention-grabber… beyond that it just becomes annoying.

      As for improvement: A/B testing would have been nice, but in similarly titled articles/emails, I used both the “Power Word” format and the “Each Word Capitalized” format, and the ones that only capitalize the “Power Words” have been opened/viewed at least 30% more- in some cases up to 80% more- than ones where all the letters were capitalized.

      The next chance I get, I’m going to do identical split testing and confirm these results scientifically :) We’ll make a post out of it.

  3. Maria Pavel March 10, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    That’s a good point. I’m thinking you can also bold or italic the words to make them stand even more, but it all depends on how much you want them to stand out.
    Anyway, i see nothing wrong in doing it, i can’t understand why some would be bothered by this.

    • Danielle March 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

      @ Maria Well, it does deviate from normal typing standards – so some people don’t see the point :) I figured it was important to explain the ‘why’ behind it. And yes, bold and italics also make for excellent eye catchers when used correctly!

  4. John McGarvey March 13, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    @Danielle,

    Thanks for the reply. Look forward to seeing the results of any future testing. Certainly, a 50 – 80% improvement is not to be sniffed at!

  5. Chris Lawson June 18, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    It is well known that over-capitalization affects readability. I hope you are talking about headlines and not connected text.If the latter,I’m afraid you are talking through your hat. Over-capitalization sounds and looks pompous. It definitely turns readers off.

    In connected text, a cap to open the sentence followed by lower-case words is far more readable. You are making up your own rules for the sake of effect. Your “advice” wont work.

    • Danielle June 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

      Hi Chris,

      I Don’t Know… It’s Fun To Write Like This! But… yes, I mean only the headlines.

      I agree, drop caps have been shown to lead the reader into the first line and engage them in the reading process.

      I’ll gladly eat my hat if you can show me how capitalizing the first letter of each word of a headline (minus words placed there for readability such as “to, the, a”) is ineffective. So far, all the tests I’ve seen show that capitalizing the words simply outperforms not capitalizing the words. That’s more than “advice” my friend – that’s proof. :)

      If you know something I don’t – please share! I’m always open to learning more. :)

      Danielle

  6. Paul R November 11, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    I think people would write for a living or are in the business of publishing, to some degree, have a moral obligation to promote well written & correct grammar – rather than propagate cheap marketing tricks.

    I don’t doubt the effectiveness, but you know what; it’s ugly & it’s wrong.

    I’m not without compromise though. Creative writing & typography has the freedom to break the rules, but these are usually made into a feature using artistic licence. Generic headline text in a standard form doesn’t really fit that situation.

    “The Clear Copywriter” at the top of this page looks fine. It’s short, snappy & obviously a feature. The tag line underneath however looks forced. Why do we need to press these points, can’t we just leave it understated & elegant?

    Please don’t take offence at my comments, we all have our own opinions. Mine are usually unpopular, truth be told. I am not a copywriter, but simply as a reader I find it awkward to look at.
    I came across this page due to that fact. I see it everywhere, it becomes annoying, so I googled why people do it.

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